In quick succession, four polls have shown the race for governor is slipping away from Ken Cuccinelli. Yesterday Quenton Kidd, Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University (CNU) discussed recent poll results with Cathy Lewis on Norfolk’s WHRV. Not all the news was great.
After about a month or so with a McAuliffe lead of around five percent and margins of error around three and four percent, there had been an argument that the gubernatorial race could be closer than the numbers indicate. Two days ago, Politico published a poll showing McAuliffe holding a 10 point lead and soon afterwards CNU released the results of a poll with him up by nine percent. Roanoke College had McAuliffe up by seven and today the Quinnipiac University poll has him with a lead of eight.
Lewis asked Kidd about the libertarian candidate. Kidd responded that Sarvis continues to perform well with about eight per cent of the vote (according to CNU). Sarvis’s support, by Kidd’s assessment, is coming out of what would naturally be Cuccinelli’s voters; he’s a protest vote for Republicans and independents who would normally go with the Republican. So the real question is: What do they do on election day? Do they stay home, do they go back to their natural base and vote Republican, or do they stick with Sarvis? Kidd believes that is the real unknown right now.
Kidd told Lewis CNU is currently conducting a poll asking about the shutdown and who is to blame; he expected the Quinnipiac poll to address the shutdown (it did). This he said, would begin to give a clearer picture about whether the race opening up for McAuliffe is directly or indirectly attributable to the “larger politics” around the shutdown and Ken Cuccinelli’s connection to those “larger politics.”
Those politics are reflected too in what Kidd says his polling shows is a 12 point gender gap. Some other polling shows an even larger gender gap, so, Kidd concludes, it is fair to say the gender gap is real, but that that is not the only problem Ken Cuccinelli has. According to Kidd, Cuccinelli is losing independents by 16% in the CNU poll. Over a third of the voters claim independent status. But even more troubling for Cuccinelli is that he is losing 10% of Republicans who are unwilling to commit to him, rather opting for Sarvis or undecided.
In particular, the CNU poll asked Republicans what kind of Republicans they are: business minded, social conservative Republican, or some of both. Cuccinelli is losing both business minded and some of both by about 10%. This means that, with the gender gap, there are really three big gaps to overcome between now and election day. According to Kidd, some of these look too big to overcome; gender and independent in particular.
When Lewis asked Kidd about the Lieutenant Governor’s race, his analysis was less certain. This race, he remarked, has been all over the place. There are polls, says Kidd, that indicate the race as even. However, CNU shows Ralph Northam up by 11 points. Interestingly, Northam and Jackson are about even in Hampton Roads with Northam up around two percent. Northam leads big there among women and independents, similar to McAuliffe. But, Kidd says, when you get down ticket, voters move around a lot.
As far as the Attorney General’s race, Herring holds a slim lead, according to the CNU figures, though within the margin of error; statistically speaking: an even race. But what is unexplainable is that Herring and Obenshain are tied among women voters. Somehow Obenshain has avoided the backlash of female voters evident at the top of the ticket. They are also nearly tied among independent voters where Herring has a two percent lead. This race, Kidd figures, is the race that Republicans can feel more comfortable about. According to Kidd, Obenshain has been smart in two ways: 1) he has used what would normally be a disadvantage as an advantage in that his campaign is not getting the attention that the races for governor and lieutenant governor have been getting, thus distancing himself from Cuccinelli and Jackson, and 2) he put his daughter out front in his campaign which sends a message that he is not like the other two Republicans.
In a stark contrast from what is termed the “Virginia Way,” voters no longer think that elected officials will put partisan differences or their own self-interest aside in pursuit of the public good. One aspect of this year’s contest is that politicians are no longer viewed as ethical. 64% of likely voters responded that politicians are less ethical than they used to be. Further, Democrats and Republicans do not see the same issues as being important. There are two streams of discussion going on parallel but not connected to each other.
Today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Kidd discussed further the turn that the Jonnie Williams scandal had on Cuccinelli’s initial campaign strategy. He also said he expected that in the closing days of the campaigns Northam would press his financial advantage over Jackson to solidify his lead. In any case, there remains in Kidd’s view uncertainty about how voters will behave down ticket. This, it seems, would be particularly true for those who turn out to vote for Sarvis.